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A History of Shanghai in 7 Dishes

A History of Shanghai in 7 Dishes

Legend has it that this uniquely cooked chicken was invented by a hungry beggar who lived in Shanghai’s neighboring town of Changshu sometime during the Qing dynasty. Though the Shanghai of today is one of the world’s largest, most cosmopolitan cities, it started out as a fishing village with origins as humble as beggar’s chicken itself.To get more news about shanghai cuisine, you can visit shine news official website.

The popular Shanghainese dish is said to have been discovered by a hungry man who, after stealing a chicken from a local farm, buried it in the mud of some riverbanks to escape the angry farmer on his tail. Thanks to his quick thinking, the man got away before the farmer could catch him. That night, he returned to the riverbanks, made a small fire, and dug up the chicken. Even hungrier than he was earlier, the beggar didn’t bother to wash the mud off, placing the bird directly on top of the open flame. The heat from the fire hardened the mud into a tight clay, and when the beggar knocked it off, he saw that the feathers fell right off the chicken. The beggar knew he had cracked open a culinary gold mine. He began selling the chicken in his village, and news of the unique dish spread far and wide, finally reaching the emperor himself. The emperor traveled to Changshu and dined in the beggar’s home. He was so impressed with the beggar’s chicken that he officially added it to the imperial court menu, solidifying its place in haute cuisine, a label the dish still carries today.

Though ma la tang, a dish literally meaning “tingly and spicy soup,” originated in Sichuan, its more recent history in Shanghai hearkens back to the city’s original vice: opium. Nearly 200 years after China went to war with Great Britain over a trade imbalance “fixed” by the introduction of opium to Chinese port cities, opium still plays a role in Shanghai’s identity.

Though the First Opium War kicked off China’s “century of humiliation” and ruined lives with addiction, modern Shanghai owes its very existence to the war. After the British victory, Shanghai was opened as one of five international ports as per the terms of the Treaty of Nanjing (1842). This drew quick international attention to the city, and a series of subsequent, unequal treaties carved out territorial concessions for the British, Americans, and French, whose unique marks on the city continue to lend it an international flair.

Xiao long bao
Shanghai has long been a culinary paradise, and despite its cuisine not making the cut for China’s “eight great culinary traditions,” the city has a few specialties that have found fans far outside its boundaries.

The city’s cuisine is called “hu cai,” a name derived from a 4th-5th century term for the mouth of the Suzhou Creek, a river that runs through the city and empties into the Huangpu. Hu cai is broken down into two sub-types, Benbang and Haipai. Benbang is Shanghai’s original cuisine, starting out as peasant food over 400 years ago. It is typified by a light sweetness, found in everything from the mouthwatering sauce of red-braised pork belly to the broth of the beloved xiao long bao.
Zha zhu pai
The other half of Shanghai’s hu cai, called haipai, means “all embracing cuisine” and has its origins in the post-opium wars era, when Shanghai first became the Pearl of the Orient. As Westerners brought their own culinary traditions with them, Shanghai became introduced to dishes like potato salad and borscht. But the Western dishes weren’t to Chinese people’s liking. Instead of embracing the foreign foods as they were, Shanghainese people chose to adapt them instead, turning out dishes like zha zhu pai, or fried pork chops.
Xiao long xia
Shanghai literally means “on the sea,” so it’s unsurprising that the city has no shortage of seafood. A dish that has become increasingly popular is xiao long xia, or crayfish. This little crustacean is eaten like candy in Shanghai, where whole buckets of the things can be purchased almost anywhere, especially in the late summer when they’re at their peak.
Egg gruyère raviolo
Replacing Shanghai’s cheap eats are overpriced Western-style restaurants that are popping up seemingly overnight. As the city’s residents become increasingly affluent and hungry for Michelin-starred dining experiences, a swarm of restaurateurs have flocked to the city to meet that demand. Unfortunately, most enterprises flop, or in some cases, succeed when they should have flopped, but a few gems have arisen from the dust.
Weibo-trendy dishes
A place that started out as a fishing village has – within the course of a few hundred short years – made a name for itself as one of the world’s most advanced and trendiest cities. Yes, the Shanghai of today is hardly distinguishable from that of even twenty years ago, with the famous Lujiazui skyline as proof.

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